The conservative movement in modern America for almost the last century has been directly associated with the Republican party. While this claim has significant justification, it is important to note that the movement is in fact a more complex political sphere. Within this political world we can pinpoint multiple groups which differ on key issues and don’t always seem to align with the voting record of the Republican party as a whole. Another relevant point to address is the tension within the movement on whether to embrace more recent neoconservative policies or to revert back to a more classic conservatism. Lastly we can see a tension among those who define themselves as conservative regarding how libertarianism fits into their ideology. The two groups share many beliefs, values and opinions, yet they diverge on a few key positions. If one traces the roots of the conservative political philosophy, we are brought a little over 200 years into the past to a man named Edmund Burke.
In the late 1700s Burke served as MP in England and is today well known as the father of conservatism. He authored Reflections on the Revolution in France as his response to the French revolutionaries’ attempt to topple the monarchy; an idea he very much disagreed with. It is this compilation of his which has come to be the “bible” of modern conservatism and its deep rooted beliefs in tradition, and most importantly, resistance to change. Burke’s criticism of the French Revolution was that revolutionary, reactionary change is not good. Rather a slow and gradual change is what yields beneficial results. He didn’t believe in revolutionary change because he thought that society was too complicated to be remade according to that plan. As can be seen through a basic review of history, most revolutions do not fix the broken society they are supposedly saving, or improve the lives of the people. In fact, they generally make life a lot more dangerous. One can point to failed efforts to remake societies, ranging from the French to Russian revolution. It can even be argued that the recent revolutions of the Arab Spring have not done much to improve life in the nations of North Africa and the Middle East, but that discussion is for another time. What I find most intriguing is that if one applies this idea of gradual change to the American political realm we see it was Republicans who were the major proponents of the war in Iraq which implemented radical governmental change very quickly. It was this political decision which caused major friction between libertarians in the Republican party and traditional members who toe the party line. One might actually go as far as to argue that in terms of policy it is now the Democrats who are more “Burke like” than Republicans. It could be contended that outside of social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, it is the Democrats who keep trying to keep things as is. Republicans are constantly attempting to reform a welfare system which has been in place for over a half century. When Democrats run adds depicting Republicans as radicals trying to erode the safety net, they in fact have transformed into the party holding on to tradition. Political beliefs aside, the basis of their argument is that the welfare system has been around for a while so we can’t reduce it drastically or get rid of it all together. Although I do not fully agree with this idea, I just found it to be a very thought provoking argument which tied Burke’s writings to the current landscape of American politics.